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The West Coast soda wars threaten to engulf the nation

June 27, 2018


Rebekah Wilce & Arn Pearson,

June 25, 2018-

A new frontier in the soda tax war is emerging along the west coast. Industry-funded committees have drawn up ballot measures to preempt voters’ local soda tax initiatives in California, Oregon, and Washington state. Starting with Berkeley, California in 2014, public health campaigners have succeeded in getting eight localities to enact taxes on sodas and other sugary beverages as a way to crack down on sugar consumption and battle obesity. Four of those localities are in California, and Seattle, Washington passed a tax that became effective at the beginning of 2018.

Now big soda manufactures are fighting back, putting big money behind statewide initiatives that would stop these local democracy efforts in their tracks. The name of the game is preemption: banning, with a piece of legislation at the state level, cities and counties from democratically enacting soda taxes. The technique was wielded as a weapon by Big Tobacco in the ’80s and ’90s to stop communities from regulating their deadly product by creating smoke-free workplaces. Now 12 states ban smoke-free ordinances and experts say preemption itself is the public health threat…

In a June 2017 article in the American Journal of Public Health, Jennifer Pomeranz of New York University’s College of Global Public Health and Mark Pertschuk of Grassroots Change in Oakland, California called preemption “a significant and quiet threat to public health in the United States” because it leaves municipalities “increasingly unable to address acute public health issues that will have lasting consequences for the health of communities.”..

Industry efforts in these west-coast states are a “fantastic assault on local democracy, but also on the ability of cities and countries to function,” Pertschuk said. Pertschuk added that California’s initiative in particular “would be so devastating to communities, so far beyond soda taxes, it really would starve communities.”

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